The doctrine of the virgin birth (also known as perpetual virginity) has been accepted as a dogma of the Catholic Church since the Council of Chalcedon in 451. This doctrine includes the beliefs in the virginal conception of Jesus by Mary without any human father, the virginal birth of the child from the womb of his mother without injury to the bodily integrity of Mary, and Mary’s observance of virginity afterward throughout her earthly life.
A lot of scholarly material has been written on this subject, pro and con, but the basic effect of this doctrine—which was never preached by Jesus himself—is to first put Jesus and then his Mother on a pedestal and therefore to deny us the opportunity of realizing that we, too, can sponsor avatars, souls of light through diligent preparation in the holiness of the marriage union.
Evidence in Matthew
The Biblical foundation for the doctrine of the virginal conception rests on a few key passages. The most significant of these is a few verses in the first chapter of Matthew: “Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost,” which occurred in fulfillment of that “which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.”
One purpose of this passage is to show that Jesus was incorporated by divine command into the house of David, which occurred when Joseph named his son—an exercise that would have been unnecessary if Joseph had been Jesus’ natural father. Joseph’s act of naming the child, which is the prerogative of the father, is also an act of adoption and thus inclusion into the Davidic line.
It is likely that the author of this part of Matthew had a “Messianic proof text”—that is, a list of passages lifted from the Old Testament to demonstrate that Jesus was the Messiah, used as a preaching aid by early Christians—and took from it a mistranslated version of Isaiah 7:14 and incorporated it into the infancy narrative (Matt. 1:22, 23).
The passage in Isaiah reads in the King James Version: “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” Any discussion of the virginal conception, particularly with reference to Matthew, must take into consideration Isaiah 7:10–17, particularly verse 14.
The prophecy of Isaiah
Examination of Isaiah 7:14 (and whether it prophesied the birth of the Messiah) and of the use and meaning of the word “virgin”—especially as it forecast the virginal conception as a Messianic sign—has given rise to some of the most famous debates in theological history.
Some versions of the Old Testament use the words “a young woman” (RSV) or “maiden” (JB) rather than “virgin.” The text of the Isaiah scroll found at Qumran library has made it clear that the original Hebrew word used to describe the woman was almâ, which means “young woman.” Since the verse in the original says “the young woman,” it is likely the young girl was someone known to Isaiah and King Ahaz. The almâ is certainly a young girl who has reached puberty and is thus marriageable if not already married and, given the context, may be referring to the wife of the king or the wife of Isaiah. But it is not clear whether she is a virgin and, if not, if she was already pregnant.
When the Hebrew Masoretic text of the Old Testament was translated into Greek in the Septuagint, the word almâ was translated (for reasons that are not clear) into the word parthenos, which means “virgin,” rather than neanis, literally “a young woman.” Some scholars believe this was done in the last century before the birth of Jesus. But there is no existing Greek manuscript that was taken from the Hebrew prior to Christian times to show that.
Consequently, it is impossible to determine who changed the word, and thus the interpretation of Isaiah 7:14, and whether it was done by Jews prior to the birth of Jesus or by Christians after the time of Jesus tampering with the Septuagint text in order to bring the translation into line with the virgin doctrine. (Later editors of the Septuagint deleted parthenos and reverted to neanis to bring the Greek text into conformity with the Hebrew original.) In any event, the Greek translation parthenos (virgin) still would have meant that a woman who is now a virgin will, by natural means, once she has united with her husband, conceive the child Immanuel.
While scholars do not agree on the identity of the child, at most it may refer to a Davidic prince who would deliver Judah from her enemies. What is really at issue in Isaiah 7:14 is not the manner of conception, nor the prophecy of the Messiah—messianism had not yet developed to the point of expecting a single future king but rather the timing of the birth of the providential child vis-à-vis events in the Fertile Crescent.
Thus, in the final analysis, neither the Hebrew nor Greek of Isaiah 7:14 refers to the virginal conception about which Matthew writes; nor was there anything in the Jewish understanding of the verse which would give rise either to the idea of conception through the Holy Spirit or to the Christian belief in the virginal conception of Jesus. In the opinion of Jesuit scholar Raymond Brown, an expert on the infancy narratives, at most, reflection on Isaiah 7:14 colored the expression of an already existing Christian belief in the virginal conception of Jesus.
The infancy narratives
Further analysis of the infancy narratives (Matt. 1–2; Luke 1–2) and of Luke’s genealogy (the latter thought to have been inserted into the third chapter of the Gospel when the first two chapters were composed) in relation to the rest of the New Testament casts doubt on the historicity of the virginal conception. The Messiah was anticipated as the fulfillment of Jewish history. Nevertheless, there was no expectation of a virgin birth in Israel, nor was there any indication in the New Testament literature (outside of the infancy narratives) that anyone was aware that Jesus was born without the agency of a human father. The Gospels were preached for years without any mention of the virginal conception, and it is never touched upon in the writings of Paul.
The baptism of Jesus is the starting point of the earliest preaching of the Church as seen in the Pauline Epistles and Acts. Mark begins there and so does John, following a brief introductory passage on the preexistence of the Word. Matthew and Luke deal with Jesus’ birth in the infancy narratives, but do not mention his birth again in their Gospels. If the infancy narratives (which were probably composed after the narratives of Jesus’ ministry) are taken as a foreword to the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, then these Gospels are seen to also begin with the baptism of Jesus.
Apart from their introductory placement, the events of the infancy narratives seem disconnected from Matthew and Luke and none of the characters in their writings appears to have any knowledge of the miraculous circumstances of Jesus’ birth; even his sisters, brothers and mother appear unaware of Jesus’ virginal conception. Furthermore, Mark 3:21–31, especially Mark 3:20, 21, suggests that they saw him more like themselves: “He went home again, and once more such a crowd collected that they could not even have a meal. When his relatives heard of this, they set out to take charge of him, convinced he was out of his mind” (JB). If they were aware of his miraculous conception, it seems unlikely they would have thought his behavior out of character with his mission.
There are no statements in the New Testament indicating that Joseph was a foster father or a legal guardian. When giving the Matthew genealogy, the old Sinaitic Syriac version of the New Testament (an important Greek manuscript based on early source material from the late second or early third century) says, “... Jacob begat Joseph; Joseph to whom was betrothed Mary the virgin, begat Jesus who is called the Messiah.” In the next section referring to Joseph (Matt. 1:18–25) the Sinaitic Syriac version reads, “She will bear you a son ... and he took his wife and she bore a son and he called his name Jesus.” Shortly thereafter the same text reads, “but knew her not until...,” referring to the Matthew assertion that Joseph and Mary did not have sexual relations until after she brought forth her firstborn son.
This has led some scholars to argue that this passage in the Sinaitic Syriac text does indeed speak of a virginal conception—an assertion which for some theologians is not entirely convincing, especially in light of Matthew 13:55, 56 (KJV), which discloses Jesus to be the son of Joseph: “Is not this the carpenter’s son? is not his mother called Mary? and his brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas? And his sisters, are they not all with us?”
A New Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture notes that regarding “the problem of the historicity of the [infancy] stories in Matt.,” which often have a legendary or “apocryphal” nature, “it is impossible to be dogmatic.”
The betrothal of Joseph and Mary
If Jesus were conceived by the normal means, there still remains the question of why Joseph and Mary would have had sexual relations prior to their marriage. Assuming the accuracy of the report in Matthew that Mary was with child after she and Joseph were betrothed but before their marriage, prevailing customs of the day would not make that such an unusual situation.
Betrothal at the time of Jesus legally effected a marital relationship as attested to in both the Old Testament and the Talmud. It was sealed when the husband-to-be paid the future bride’s father or guardian a “bride price” as compensation for his loss. Thereafter she was in his power and considered him her “Baal,” i.e., lord, master, husband. The betrothal could only be repudiated by a bill of divorce. If the woman lay with another man, it was considered adultery. If the man died, the woman was considered a widow and subject to the levirate. Thus marriage and betrothal carried similar rights and responsibilities.
Within a short time after the betrothal covenant was completed the boy had the privilege and obligation of cohabitation with his spouse. In the case of the earliest tradition pertaining to Hebrew marriage customs, there appears to have been only a few days lapse between the betrothal transaction and the cohabitation. The girl remained at the home of her father until the husband was ready to receive her. At that time there was usually a nuptial drinking party to celebrate the bride’s transference to the groom’s home. Intimate relations by betrothed couples were not prohibited in Jewish Scriptures. The Mishnah and the Talmud indicate that Palestinian Judaism showed considerable tolerance towards prenuptial unions in the era of the New Testament, and children conceived as a result were not stigmatized as illegitimate.
Hebrew attitudes toward procreation
A review of Hebrew attitudes toward procreation may help to clarify the controversy over the virginal conception. For some time prior to the birth of Jesus, the Hebrews assumed that God was active in the generation of each individual—that Yahweh creates when parents procreate—something that biblical scholar William E. Phipps says might be called a theory of dual paternity:
This double sonship outlook became established in Jewish tradition. One ancient rabbi said that human creation occurs in this manner: “Neither man without woman nor woman without man, and neither of them without the Divine Spirit.”
In the first birth account of the Bible, Eve exclaims: “I have brought a child into being with the help of YHWH.” [“I have gotten a man from the Lord.”] This was interpreted by a rabbi: “There are three partners in the production of a man: the Holy One, blessed be he, the father, and the mother.” In that talmudic assertion “the rabbinic theory of marital intercourse is summed up.”
The concept of dual paternity, Phipps points out, was not a uniquely Jewish idea. Confucius wrote:
The female alone cannot procreate; the man alone cannot propagate; and Heaven alone cannot produce a man. The three collaborating, man is born. Hence anyone may be called the son of his mother or the son of Heaven.
Scribal insertions in Luke
Phipps argues that the doctrine of the virginal conception, at least in Luke, depends upon two Greek words in Luke 3 and four words in Luke 1 that were probably added by a scribe who misunderstood the Hebrew doctrine of dual paternity. Luke 3:23 contains an obvious scribal insertion: “And Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, which was the son of Heli.” Phipps declares that the words “as was supposed” render irrelevant the aim that the genealogical compiler had in mind, which was to trace Jesus’ descent through Joseph.
Luke 1:34 contains a less obvious scribal insertion. “Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?” The statement is incongruous when the words “seeing I know not a man” remain in the text. Phipps points out that an intelligent bride would hardly be puzzled by the means by which she would become pregnant. But if “seeing I know not a man” is deleted, then Mary’s puzzlement refers to the magnificent destiny for a carpenter’s son prophesied by Gabriel in the preceding verses, not the method of fertilization. Some scholars suggest that an old Latin version of this passage, without reference to the virginal conception, may be the way Luke wrote it.
Considering this and other scribal insertions, Dr. John C. Trever, head of the Dead Sea Scrolls Project at Claremont, believes that it is not necessary to assume that the author of the Gospel of Luke ever referred to the virginal conception; it seems that Luke was doctored to harmonize with Matthew. Trever concludes: “We might say with considerable support that the Gospel of Matthew may be the origin of the doctrine of virgin birth.”
Phipps notes that there is no way to prove or disprove that the original texts of Matthew and Luke were tampered with, because the earliest existing manuscripts are several centuries later than the lost originals. However, it was in the second and third centuries that the virginal conception became exalted among Gentile Christians as the only fitting way for the Divine Logos to have become enfleshed. Today it is the position of the Roman Catholic church, the Eastern Orthodox church, and the Coptic church that Jesus was the product of a virginal conception.
Virginal conception to virgin birth
It is important to draw a distinction between the virginal conception and the virgin birth, which deals with the way Jesus actually passed out of Mary’s womb. Christian traditions of the second century hold that Jesus was born miraculously, without pain to his mother and leaving her physically intact.
As Raymond Brown points out, Matthew is concerned only with showing Mary’s virginity before Jesus’ birth so that the Isaiahan prophecy will be fulfilled. As time passed, however, the notion of the virginal conception grew, and by the second century traditions of the virgin birth developed, followed by the idea that Joseph and Mary never had normal sexual relations, finally concluding that Joseph, too, was a virgin!
Jesus’ brothers and sisters are sometimes held to be children of Joseph by a previous marriage. “In antiquity there were debates whether these were half-brothers of Jesus (sons of Joseph by a previous marriage—Protevangelium of James; Epiphanius), or cousins (sons of either Joseph’s brother or of Mary’s sister—Jerome), or blood brothers (children of Joseph and Mary—Helvidius).”
Implications of the doctrine
We must ask ourselves, since the prevalent theories regarding original sin are incorrect (since man is not conceived in sin, but conceived himself in sin through his first act of disobedience), why would it become necessary for God to make an exception to the established birth process in order to bring forth his only begotten Son—the Christ, who is born and lives in every son and daughter of the Most High?
We perceive that inherent in this concept is not only the belief that sex is sinful, but the belief that Matter itself is not a suitable vehicle for the Spirit of God. Was Joseph any less holy than Mary? If her body was consecrated to bear the child Jesus, might not Joseph also have been consecrated by the Holy Spirit to bear the divine seed? If there were something inherently ungodly in the birth process, why would God use it in any form? If he could dispense with Joseph’s function, why could he not have dispensed with Mary’s and simply sent forth the Manchild direct from heaven?
It is precisely because the Luciferians desired to keep all mankind in the consciousness of sin, acknowledging themselves as sinners, that they conceived of the idea of making Jesus the exception to the rule, thus making him so far above everyone else that no one could possibly hope to approximate his goodness. Thus, the goal of Christhood ordained by God for every manifestation of himself becomes unattainable if we accept the doctrine of the virgin birth. For if this is a condition of holiness, man is defeated before he even begins.
We must ask ourselves if God would make an exception to his Law that would result in the exclusion from grace of all of his children save one. If Jesus were not fashioned like all other men, his mission would be pointless, for he came to teach men the way, not to win their salvation for them. He was the great exemplar, and he left a perfect example that can and must be followed in every respect if man is to reunite with God. Jesus came to show the only way man can find reunion, and his purpose in coming has been aborted because he has been worshipped and not imitated.
The necessity for the condition of virginity in order to conceive Christbearers is a condemnation of all other sons and daughters of God who are in the karmic condition. The doctrine of the perpetual virginity of the Mother Mary is one that declares the unworthiness of all others upon earth: only Mary can bear the Son of God; we can do nothing to bring in the Golden Age.
It is also a condemnation of the Father and the Father principle: he is not worthy to bear the seed of Alpha that can ignite and bring to life a living soul who is a Christed one. By this faulty logic, we cannot bring in the Cosmic Christs and the Buddhas and the seventh root race—because we are all stained by original sin.
We do not believe that the conception of Jesus by his father Joseph, as the agent of the Holy Spirit, in any way detracts from the divinity of his soul or the magnitude of the incarnate Word within him; rather does it enhance the availability of the fullness of God through his chosen and anointed human instruments.
Every man and woman is the son of God (the Christ Self) whose seed is transmitted by God (the Holy Spirit). Every man and woman is the son of man (the four lower bodies, the vehicles that are conceived through Matter and evolving soul consciousness).
Elizabeth Clare Prophet, The Lost Years of Jesus: Documentary Evidence of Jesus’ 17-Year Journey to the East.
Mark L. Prophet and Elizabeth Clare Prophet, The Path of the Universal Christ, section 11.
Elizabeth Clare Prophet, December 11, 1988.
John D. Davis, A Dictionary of the Bible, 4th rev. ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1954).
Matthew Black and H. H. Rowley, eds., Peake’s Commentary on the Bible (Walton-on-Thames, Surrey: Nelson, 1962).
New Catholic Encyclopedia, s.v. “Genealogy,” and “Luke, Gospel According to St.”
Isaac Asimov, Asimov’s Guide to the Bible—Volume Two: The New Testament (New York: Avon, 1969).
D. Guthrie and J. A. Motyer, eds., The New Bible Commentary Revised, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1970).
The Anchor Bible: Matthew (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday & Co., 1971)
The Anchor Bible: The Gospel According to Luke (I–IX) (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday & Co., 1981).
- Matt. 1:18.
- Matt. 1:22, 23.
- Raymond Brown, The Birth of the Messiah, pp. 143–53.
- Reginald C. Fuller, ed. A New Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture (London: Thomas Nelson, 1975), p. 907.
- William E. Phipps, Was Jesus Married? (New York: Harper & Row, 1970), pp. 39–40.
- William E. Phipps, Was Jesus Married? (New York: Harper & Row, 1970), pp. 40–42.
- Telephone interview with Dr. John Trever, 9 November 1984.
- William E. Phipps, Was Jesus Married? (New York: Harper & Row, 1970), p. 43.
- Raymond Brown, The Birth of the Messiah, p. 132.